This is a video of NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins, speaking in March 2011 about
the new Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research:
“Obesity is a severe and increasingly severe public health problem in the United
States and across the world. In the U.S., roughly one-third of adults are considered
obese, by our current standards, and about 17 percent of children. And the prospects
of this, for what it will do in terms of health care, in terms of human longevity,
are of deep concern.
So this is a very high priority, for the National Institutes of Health to address
with an effective strategic plan. If the NIH has its mission to try to promote human
health, obesity is right in the middle of that. So of all the organizations you
can think of, probably NIH appears on that very short list of the most important
ones to tackle this problem. And we embrace that, and aim to try to live up to that
responsibility by promoting excellent science that gives rigorous results that then
can be applied to the public.
I think some people look at the obesity problem and say, well, you know, it's just
because people eat too much and don't get enough exercise, so what's the science
here? Well, there's a lot of science, and a lot of things that we could learn more
about in a way that would help the situation beyond simply wagging fingers at people
and telling them to behave.
The strategic plan is rather sweeping in its set of goals. Going all the way from
basic science understanding of what are those signals, that actually trigger hunger
and satiety. And also, exactly what are those genetic influences that play a role
in the tendency towards obesity. And what about the microbes, that may be playing
a role as well. But it goes much further than that, to questions about the environment.
What influences there that we know about, or don't know about, are also triggering
the risk of obesity. But it focuses quite heavily, then, on interventions. How do
you design trials with creative new ideas about how to prevent or treat obesity.
And then, once you've identified possible strategies, how do you develop an approach
to find out whether they work in the real world? Because a clinical trial under
very closely controlled circumstances is exciting if it gives you a good result,
but it doesn't guarantee that that's something you can apply to millions of people
in a less controlled situation. That's part of NIH's job, too, is to look at that
kind of implementation question, and that's very much part of this plan.
Obesity has many health effects that are potentially quite serious, most notably
diabetes, that the very rapid rise in the incidence of so-called type 2, adult-onset
diabetes is largely attributable to the epidemic of obesity. The fact that this
disease, which we used to call adult-onset diabetes now is turning up in kids who
are nine or ten or 11 years old, because of obesity, is truly frightening, 'cause
diabetes has a wide range of long-term effects, in terms of blindness, in terms
of kidney failure, in terms of heart attacks, strokes, amputations. That's probably
the most obvious and immediate effect of obesity but there are many others as well.
Obesity also predisposes, obviously, to lots of musculoskeletal problems in terms
of joints, that get worn down, the need for joint replacements. It predisposes to
heart attacks, to strokes. It predisposes to cancer in ways that are actually quite
The National Institutes of Health is our nation's investment in biomedical research,
to try to understand the causes of disease, and the ways to prevent and treat. Obesity
is a very significant cause of current illness in our country, and becoming more
significant all the time. The National Institutes of Health is determined to take
the resources that we've been given by the taxpayers, and learn everything we can
about this epidemic in order to turn it around. We aim to be no less than completely
innovative, ambitious, bold and creative in generating the evidence that we need
to get the answers that will lead to a better future.”